August 10, 2022

Correspondent photo / David Dermer Liberty’s Chris Cunningham celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half of their game, Friday night at Liberty High School.

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It’s hard to believe, but we’re exactly six weeks away from the beginning of high school football here in Ohio.

It seems like just yesterday Ursuline was playing for a state title at Tom Benson Stadium in Canton, but it’s on to another high school football season. So with that in mind, starting today the Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator will discuss some of the most intriguing matchups in each week of the season until it’s time for Week 1 previews to begin.

We’ll start with Week 1 and Week 2 today, Week 3 and Week 4 will come next week and so on and so forth.

With games on Thursday and Friday in Week 1, you’ll get a double dose for the first week of the season.

Week 1

Springfield vs. South Range

This one is pretty easy. The Tigers are entering a new era without Beau Brungard under center, and after losing a slew of talented seniors, Sean Guerriero will rely on a new core group of players to lead Springfield this season.

The Raiders are coming off a run to the Division V, Region 17 championship after an undefeated run through the regular season. South Range lost a key group of seniors as well. Running back Dylan Dominguez is off to Youngstown State, where he’ll team up with Brungard, and a few other seniors have gone off to college. But, the Raiders still return star quarterback Billy Skripac and a plethora of key players to aid in the Raiders’ rise this season.

South Range took home this game in Week 1 last season in a 41-21 affair, but look for another interesting matchup this time around.

Brookfield vs. Ursuline

Ursuline is coming off a run to the state championship last season, where the Irish lost to Clarksville Clinton-Massie, 29-28, on a last-second play. But, just like other schools, Ursuline was a victim of graduation, losing quarterback Brady Shannon, running back Demarcus McElroy, wide receiver Dean Boyd and several other key players. But, the Fighting Irish did reload, bringing in quarterback D.C. Ferrell, who threw for 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns for Liberty last season. The rising sophomore also ran for 421 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s sure to revamp the Fighting Irish.

Brookfield won’t be an easy Week 1 opponent, though. Donovan Pawlowski returns under center for the Warriors after a stellar junior season, and one of his favorite targets, Isaiah Jones, is back on the outside. Connor Heater is also back to anchor the offensive line for the Warriors.

Given the key returners and additions, Ursuline and Brookfield are set for a big matchup in Week 1 that could set the tone for the rest of their seasons. If the Warriors get a win, they can build on a win over the defending state runner-ups. If Ursuline wins they are back in the driver’s seat after losing a talented senior class.

Chaney vs. Poland

There are a few things that make this an interesting matchup. First, you have the return of Seth Antram to Chaney, where he led the offense as the offensive coordinator when the Cowboys brought back football. He also gets his quarterback Jason Hewlett back, whose season came to an end early last year when he broke his leg against Austintown Fitch in Week 1. The Cincinnati verbal commit is set for a solid senior season and could lead his Cowboys on a solid run this season.

The Bulldogs are set for a rebuild after losing a talented senior class that included quarterback Jack Fulton, wide receiver Ross Dedo, tight end Dom Parker, fullback Christian Colosimo and many others. Tom Pavlansky still leads the way, giving the Bulldogs a steady voice to lean on, but a matchup against the Cowboys in Week 1 will be a tough one.

Canfield vs. West Branch

This will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the area in Canfield’s Broc Lowry, an Indiana commit, and West Branch’s Dru DeShields. Both quarterbacks lit up the airways last year and were the feature pieces of two prominent offenses.

Lowry lost a few targets from a year ago in running back Mikey Crawford, slot back Drew Carroce and wide receiver Oliver Kovass. The Cardinals also lost a leader along the offensive line in Nicholas Bowen. But they return plenty of targets for their Big Ten-bound quarterback that could put them right back in position to contend this year.

Just like the Cardinals, the Warriors lost a few talented players in wide receiver Nick Wilson and running back Steven Marra, but they still have enough targets that will allow DeShields to repeat his performances from last season.

Expect this matchup to be a high-scoring and exciting one.

Warren JFK vs. Champion

These two teams faced off in Week 1 last season, and the Eagles came out on top, 48-6. Both teams went through a few changes this offseason but return a myriad of players that will have an impact in this matchup.

Patrick Valent leads the way in the trenches for the Eagles and will provide plenty of disruption in the Champion backfield. Caleb Hadley returns under center for JFK, and although players like Gavin Shrum and Antwan Brown graduated, the Eagles will still have plenty of targets for Hadley. With their depth and their returning talent, JFK should be in just as good of a position as they were last season.

When you bring Champion into the mix of this matchup, you think of one person, and that’s senior quarterback Joey Fell. He did it all for the Golden Flashes last year and is somewhat of a “spark in the pan” under center. He can throw and run, and can affect the game in several different ways. Fell could be the game-changer Aug. 19 when these two teams meet up to kick off the season.

Week 2

Girard vs. Liberty

The famous Battle of Belmont can’t go unnoticed. Joe Simon enters his second season at the head of the Leopards, and he’ll be looking to win his first game against the Indians as a coach this season. He’ll have to do it without his quarterback from a season ago, as the then-freshman Ferrell transferred to Ursuline. The Leopards still return wide receiver Chris Cunningham, who tallied just over 1,000 receiving yards last season and caught 14 touchdown passes. He also rushed for just over 150 yards and scored two touchdowns.

Girard coach Pat Pearson returns both Nic Bengala and Triston Valley, who each saw time under center last season. Bengala threw for 1,017 yards and ran for another 632 yards while Valley, who dealt with injuries for most of the season, threw for 706 and ran for 321 yards. The two players combined for 26 touchdowns. Senior running back Mike Palmer also returns to the backfield after rushing for 1,174 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. He also caught 33 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns. Palmer is just as strong defensively as he tallied 91 tackles last season including 10 for a loss.

Chaney vs. Boardman

This one comes down to the sidelines as Seth Antram returns to Boardman after spending last season with the Spartans. Now he’ll find himself on the opposite sideline for this 2022 matchup.

The Cowboys will have plenty of talent with Cincinnati recruit Jason Hewlett leading the way offensively and a plethora of athletic talent on both sides of the ball. DJ Dota will have another tough matchup to start off his time at Boardman. This young Spartans team could look to take the air out of the ball and slow the game down enough to keep the Cowboys off the field, which would make it an interesting one.

Canton McKinley vs. Austintown Fitch

After a matchup with Foothills in Week 1, the Falcons get Canton McKinley in Week 2. Fitch came out on top in the same week last year with a 42-28 win. The Falcons will have a few holes to fill this year, including a big one under center, where they’ll have to find a replacement for Devin Sherwood. However, Fitch brings back plenty of talent elsewhere.

Rising junior Brian Robinson has exploded onto the scene this year and has picked up big-time offers from the likes of Georgia and several other prominent programs. Along with Robinson, head coach T.J. Parker will get running back Jamell James back along with wide receiver / safety Cam Smith, an Iowa State commit, defensive back Deshawn Vaughn and wide receiver Jayden Eley. Sophomore running back D.J. Williams also had a big impact last season.

With the talent that Falcons return they could be in line to contend this year and a win over Canton McKinley in Week 2 could set the tone.

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